Deborah S., Arthur, Kenney, James A., III Retired, Specially
Deborah S., J.
in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County convicted Bryant
Walls, the appellant, of two counts of first degree murder
and one count of first degree burglary. The court sentenced
him to two consecutive life terms for murder and a concurrent
ten year term for burglary. He noted an appeal, presenting
five questions, which we have combined and rephrased as four:
I. Did the trial court err by denying his motion for a
mistrial based upon the prosecutor's remark during
opening statement that the jurors would hear the appellant
II. Did the trial court err by declining to give his
requested jury instructions on the crime of burglary and by
its answers to questions from the jury about that crime?
III. Did the trial court err by admitting a recording of a
telephone call that he made from the Baltimore County
IV. Did the trial court err by denying his motion to dismiss
the charges against him or to exclude the testimony of two
State's witnesses as a sanction for alleged prosecutorial
following reasons, we shall affirm the judgments of the
after 2 a.m. on December 2, 2012, Walls killed Okemia Walls
("Okemia"), his estranged wife, and William
Cunningham, her boyfriend. The charges against him were tried
to a jury over five days in May 2014. The State's theory
of prosecution was that the murders were willful, deliberate,
and premeditated, and were committed in the course of a first
degree burglary. Walls did not dispute his criminal agency,
but took the position that he had killed the victims without
premeditation or deliberation, and in hot-blooded response to
legally adequate provocation, thereby mitigating the crimes
to voluntary manslaughter. He disputed that he had the
requisite intent to commit first degree burglary. We
summarize the relevant evidence adduced at trial.
and Okemia had known each other for 23 years and had been
married for 7 years. They had no children together, but each
had adult children from prior relationships.
beginning of 2012, Walls and Okemia were living at 24 Venus
Court, a two-story townhouse in the Northbrooke Township
development in Parkville. Okemia's daughter, Meishon
Moore, was the lessee of the townhouse and lived there as
well. Venus Court is comprised of three groupings of
townhouses configured in a U with a parking lot in the
in the spring or summer of 2012, Walls and Okemia separated.
Walls moved in with his brother, Rick Walls
("Rick"), and Rick's wife, Angela Walls
("Angela"), in their home in Joppa, Harford County.
According to Moore, Walls took all of his belongings with
him, did not retain a key to 24 Venus Court, and did not have
permission to be in the home thereafter.
Hicks was living in an apartment at 1 Venus Court with his
roommate, Whitney Franklin. Hicks and Franklin were friends
with Walls and Okemia. Around 7 p.m. on December 1, 2012,
Hicks called Walls and told him that a friend had attended a
gathering at 24 Venus Court that day and had observed Okemia
with a male companion. Upon hearing this, Walls got pretty
"upset" and said, "This is why I wanted to be
finished with her." He asked Hicks to come pick him up.
Hicks agreed, but later changed his mind. He fell asleep and
awoke around midnight. His cell phone showed 15 missed calls
from Walls. He did not call him back.
at 11 p.m., Okemia, Cunningham, Moore, and Moore's
boyfriend left 24 Venus Court and went to a local bar. Around
1:15 a.m. (by now December 2, 2012), Okemia and Cunningham
returned to 24 Venus Court.
and her boyfriend stayed at the bar until 1:30 a.m. They
drove to pick up some food and then returned to 24 Venus
Court. Moore, who was behind the wheel, pulled into the
parking lot between the townhouses around 2 a.m. She saw
Walls crossing the parking lot, walking toward her car. She
opened her window and asked him what he was doing there.
Walls was sweating and appeared angry. He replied that
"he had to get that nigga" or that he had to
"kill that nigga." Moore closed her window and
drove away in a panic. She pulled around the corner and
parked. She called Okemia's cell phone, but there was no
answer. She then called Cunningham's cell phone, but that
call also went unanswered. She called 911.
thereafter, Deanna Hunter, who was living at 30 Solar Circle,
one street over from Venus Court, heard loud voices outside.
She looked out her window and saw a man "pinn[ing]"
a woman against an SUV and stabbing her with a knife. The
woman fell to the pavement. Hunter heard the man say, "I
told you I was gonna get you" as he was stabbing the
woman. She called 911. While on the phone with the 911
operator, Hunter saw the perpetrator walk away. She went
outside to render aid to the victim. She told the 911
operator that the woman was on her stomach, was bleeding
profusely, and there was a "knife broken off in her
Moore had driven back into the parking lot on Venus Court.
She noticed that the front door of 24 Venus Court was wide
open. She jumped out of her car and ran toward her townhouse.
Walls was sitting on the outdoor air conditioning unit for
the neighboring townhome. He said, "Mi, your mother is
dead. I killed them both."
ran inside the house and found Cunningham lying on the floor
in the master bedroom "bleeding to death." She
could not find her mother.
next door neighbor, Dawn Green, came outside. Green, who is a
retired police detective, had been awakened by a loud thud,
some faint screaming, and the sound of footsteps next door.
She then heard someone knocking on the door of a nearby
townhouse, later determined to be 30 Venus Court. She heard a
female voice say, "Who is it, " and a male voice
reply, "Bubbles." (Walls's nickname is
Bubbles.) The female voice asked, "Well, what do you
want?" The male voice replied, "I just killed
M[ami], " which was the nickname Walls used for Okemia.
retrieved her gun and police badge, and told her husband to
call 911. She ran next door and, finding the door open, went
inside and called out for Okemia. No one answered. She went
upstairs and found Cunningham lying on the bedroom floor
bleeding from the upper torso. He was still alive but could
not speak. She told him she would get help.
ran back outside and saw Walls sitting on an air conditioning
unit. She asked him where Okemia was and he replied, "I
killed her." Green displayed her gun and identified
herself as a police officer. Walls took off running in the
direction of Solar Circle. Green pursued him and yelled that
she would shoot if he didn't stop. He exclaimed,
"It's me. I did it. I did it. Don't shoot."
then, Baltimore County Police Department ("BCPD")
Officers Conrad Butler and Daniel Burns had arrived at Solar
Circle. They found Okemia, partially clothed and lying face
down on the pavement, with "horrific injuries on her
back." A "tip of a piece of metal" was
sticking out of her spine. Officer Burns recognized it as the
base of a knife blade that had broken off. A black knife
handle was found in the grass by her arm. The officers
immediately observed Walls running toward them, hands in the
air, with Green in pursuit. Walls was shouting, "I did
it. I did it." The officers yelled for Walls to get on
the ground. He complied and they placed him under arrest. His
hands were covered in "wet, dripping blood."
began to cry. He told the officers that the woman on the
ground was his wife. He said he had found her in bed with
another man. Indicating with his head toward 24 Venus Court,
he said he had "left another one up there." Officer
Butler entered 24 Venus Court and found Cunningham's
body. Cunningham and Okemia were pronounced dead at the
crime technician photographed damage to the front door,
doorframe, and casing at 24 Venus Court, as well as a muddy
shoe print on the outside of the door. She also photographed
blood smears on the door of 30 Venus Court.
trial, a video recording of an oral statement Walls gave to
the police on December 2, 2012, was played for the jury. In
the statement, Walls said he and Okemia had been reconciling
and were planning to buy a house together. They had gone to
the Siesta Motel on November 29, 2012, where they had sex.
While they were there, Okemia received a call on her cell
phone from a contact labeled "my baby." Walls
answered Okemia's cell phone, and a man was on the line.
Walls became angry and accused Okemia of cheating on him. She
denied that she and the other man were romantically involved.
to Walls, on December 1, 2012, he called Hicks and said he
was going to come by his house (at 1 Venus Court) later that
night to give Franklin some money to take to Okemia. Around
1:45 a.m. (on December 2, 2012), Walls hailed a
"hack" cab in Joppa and was dropped off near an
elementary school next to the Northbrooke Township
development. From there, he walked toward 1 Venus Court. As
he passed directly behind 24 Venus Court, he looked up at the
second floor of the townhouse and saw Okemia and Cunningham
through the window of the master bedroom. The room was
illuminated by a television set. Okemia was naked and
"hugging up" against Cunningham.
recounted that he walked around to the front of the
townhouses, where he encountered Moore. She drove up and
asked him what he was doing there. He replied that he had
come to see his wife. Moore said he should leave. She drove
away. Walls walked up to 24 Venus Court, kicked in the door,
grabbed a chef's knife he saw on the kitchen table, and
went upstairs. When he entered the master bedroom, Cunningham
saw him and "came at him." He and Cunningham
"tussled" on the bed and he began "swinging
the knife." He did not know how many times he stabbed
Cunningham. Okemia ran out of the room, and Walls ran after
her. When he caught up with her outside, he grabbed her by
the shoulder. She "got aggressive" and he
"started swinging" the knife at her. The knife
eventually broke. He thought it might still be inside her.
After Okemia fell to the ground, he called 911 on his cell
phone. He walked back to Venus Court and knocked on the door
to 30 Venus Court. He told the neighbor that he had killed
his statement, Walls was distraught. He said the whole
incident resulted from Okemia's "playing games with
[his] emotions" and that he "couldn't deal with
it." Several times he asked the police if Okemia was
December 4, 2012, the police executed a search warrant at the
home in Joppa where Walls had been living with his brother
and sister-in-law. On the kitchen counter, they found a
butcher block containing knives with black handles. The
largest knife was missing. They photographed the butcher
block and seized one of the other knives. The photographs and
the knife were introduced into evidence at trial, as was the
knife handle found near Okemia's body.
a jail visit with his sister, Walls admitted that he had
taken a knife with him to 24 Venus Court on the night in
question. A recording of this conversation was played for the
jury. Subsequently, in a recorded jail phone call, Walls told
his daughter that he was carrying a knife in the early
morning hours of December 2, 2012, in case he encountered any
"wild animals" while walking to 1 Venus Court. A
recording of that call also was played for the jury.
autopsy reports document that Okemia was stabbed eighteen
times and sustained seven cutting injuries on her back,
chest, arms, hips, hands, and face. A knife blade measuring
eight and three-eighths inches was embedded in her back on
the right side. Cunningham was stabbed ten times and
sustained seven cutting injuries to his back, shoulder,
abdomen, arms, and hands.
case, Walls called eight witnesses. His sister-in-law,
Angela, testified that he had moved in with her and her
husband in July of 2012, but had continued to see Okemia
regularly. Two BCPD police officers testified that they had
responded to the scene of the crimes on December 2, 2012, and
had heard Walls admit to killing Okemia and Cunningham. The
officer who transported Walls to the police station that
night testified that Walls "began to cry and shake
hysterically" while in the police car. Yet another BCPD
police officer testified that he had observed blood stains on
the door to 30 Venus Court. A private investigator testified
that he had confirmed that Okemia had registered at the
Siesta Motel on November 29, 2012.
shall include additional facts in our discussion of the
opening statement, the prosecutor gave the following
description of Walls's pursuit of Okemia after she ran
out of 24 Venus Court:
Okemia runs out of the apartment down the steps. This is 2:00
a.m. on December 2nd, early December of 2012. She
runs down the steps and she makes it to approximately this
area, you'll hear testimony that's about 30 Solar
Circle. This is the area where she ends up in front of 30
Solar Circle. She's running for her life. Ultimately, he
catches her. You'll hear him testify that he just
started swinging the knife.
after the prosecutor finished his opening, defense counsel
asked to approach the bench and the following ensued:
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Your Honor, I'm very concerned about
one thing that [the prosecutor] said, and I know he
didn't do it intentionally.
THE COURT: It was a misspeak.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: It was a misspeak -
THE COURT: I know it was.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: -- but it was a really serious misspeak.
THE COURT: I know it was.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: What he said was, "You will hear him
testify, " in reference to [Walls]. I'm gonna have
to ask for a mistrial based on that. That is a basic right
[Walls] has not to testify.
THE COURT: I know. It was an inadvertent choice of words.
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I know you didn't know -
[PROSECUTOR]: I was referring to what he said in his
THE COURT: You were referring to his statement, and instead
of saying, ["]You will hear in the statement, ["]
you said, "You will hear him testify." I'm
denying the request for the mistrial. I would be happy to
grant a curative instruction. They were told yesterday both
in voir dire, and I think in my opening instructions no
burden. I understand your objection -
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: I can't say a curative instruction
would come close to remedying it. If you give a curative
instruction, you're highlighting it, and then that would
THE COURT: I will not highlight it. What I will do if
you'd like, and you can talk to [Walls] about this over
lunch, I would before we start with testimony remind them of
certain things and give a burden of proof instruction and no
duty on Defense to put on any testimony in evidence and never
any obligation for [Walls] to testify, and I would
highlight those instructions at the beginning of the case,
and then we'll renew them at the end. So, if you would
like me to do that, I'll be happy to do that. If you
choose to just leave it alone, I'll leave it alone, but I
don't think a one-word misspeak in the middle of an
opening gives rise to a basis for mistrial. So, you want -
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: My request would be a mistrial.
counsel then gave her opening statement. She did not mention
the prosecutor's misstatement or otherwise comment on
whether Walls would testify. At the conclusion of her opening
statement, the parties again approached the bench:
[PROSECUTOR]: Your Honor, the State's position is that a
curative instruction will suffice if [Walls] plans to
testify. We are mindful of the Court's time, we are
loathed [sic] to waste the Court's time in terms of the
time we've spent during the trial up to this moment. If
the Defense can't say at this point in the proceedings
whether or not [Walls is] going to testify -
THE COURT: I mean, but the problem is and I believe it to
have been just a ...